I'd never even heard of a "sandbox" until a few years back. Sounds a bit like "litter box". Can't be that, can it? Nope. Turns out it's what we'd call a "sand pit" where I come from. Which doesn't really help much. Even a "sand pit" to me is where you land after a long jump. I don't believe I've ever seen a pit or a box of sand put down for very small children to play in. We generally go to the seaside for that.
Then there's "theme park". We don't really have those either, although we do know what they are. I'm pretty sure I've never been to one. I've been to amusement parks and fairgrounds, we had those when I was tiny and we still have some left, but if they had a theme other than "spin round in circles, scream then throw up" I must have missed it.
So we're having this discussion based on two analogies that have no emotional resonance for me. The fine distinctions people draw just blur when I try to focus down. And anyway, when I read about games like EVE or pre-NGE SWG the word that comes to mind isn't "sandbox". It's "simulation". Back in the 80s and 90s there was a whole genre of "sim" games, where you managed some enterprise like a city, a zoo or a football team. When I read stories about being a member of a Corp in EVE or being an Entertainer in SWG it often sounds more like being inside a simulation than playing in a sandbox. As an employee, not the owner.
What's all this leading up to? Well, I've been playing Wurm. Not much, but I have been playing. I thank Stargrace for that. She keeps writing about it and posting such pretty pictures. I tried Wurm before once, many years ago. All I can remember is wandering around in near total darkness for about an hour, occasionally bumping into a wall. The new player experience has improved a lot since then. They even have a tutorial, although for me that could be counted a mixed blessing.
|I made that!|
Wurm is very enjoyable. It's relaxing, except when a crocodile chases you or a lion roars very near in the dark. (It still gets dark but nowhere near as dark as I remember). It's also quite compulsive in that drip drip drip of incremental rewards kind of way. I was getting drawn in enough to start reading Wikis and forums and planning ahead. Then I thought "do I really want to do this?"
To get anything done in Wurm takes ages. You have to construct everything from first principles and each act of construction pops up a timer. It's an on-use skill-based system, so the more you do something the better at it you get and the more efficiently (faster, less chance of failure) you do it. It's also a social environment reliant on trade and co-operation. In order to make progress you have to perform many repeated actions over extended periods of time while establishing social networks.
|Erm, but not this...|
It's like moving to a town where you know no-one, taking on a job about which you know nothing and sleeping in the park while you build your own house. Only with crocodiles.What's more, once you've put in the hours, weeks, months of real time and have your homestead all fixed up, you have to maintain it or it falls down. If you leave it too long, when you come back it will have reverted to wilderness and your neighbors and passing hobos will have taken all your stuff. Massively's Shawn Schuster wrote a piece that sums this up brilliantly, except he managed to be a lot more positive about it than I would have been in his shoes.
It was his article, in fact, that convinced me to stop reading Wurm Wikis and making grandiose plans and to settle for the hobo lifestyle instead. It also got me to wondering just why sandbox gameplay has to be soooo slooow. It's not like the simulation happens in real-time. I've lived near two people who built their own houses on an empty plot of land. One took over two years and the other about nine months. I've never seen anyone build an entire town but I'm pretty confident it would need more than three dozen people and take longer than a few weeks. Especially if they also dug a mine under a mountain while they were at it.
Theme Park gameplay used to be like this too, relatively speaking. Travel took hours, fights took minutes, raids lasted all night. Then came WoW and everything sped up. Say what you like about WoW, it at least opened up the market to people who like to get something done in less than forever. And there are still slow theme parks. They survive. As I was commenting not long ago,it still takes a while to get something done in Everquest and you just try rushing through Ryzom and see how far that gets you. We themeparkers have a choice of pace now.
So where's my fast sandbox?